Language in all forms; speaking to Kanzi

Dr. Hyatt's seventh period class on a video call with the ACCI.

Dr. Hyatt's seventh period class on a video call with the ACCI.

Students talked to Nicole, a woman apart of the staff at the institute.
Students talked to Nicole, a woman a part of the staff at the institute.
Harin Pulkaram, David Standeven, and Adam McMakin (left to right) were all apart of the video communication with Nicole and Kanzi.
Pravin Vikram, David Standeven, and Adam McMakin (left to right) were all a part of the video communication with Nicole and Kanzi.

Last week, Dr. Hyatt’s AP Lang students got the chance to video chat with Nicole, a woman who works at The Ape Cognition and Conservation Initiative. The ACCI is a research facility that houses Bonobos, a highly endangered species in the Central African wild. The ACCI is dedicated to uncovering the human origin of language and behavior within these apes.

When discussing with Nicole, we learned that these 5 apes are all working on understanding the English language. One ape in particular has learned over 2,000 words using a lexigram. The lexigram contains buttons with different pictures on them. A word is read to Kanzi, the ape, and he clicks the correct picture that matches the word. When he does it right, he receives a grape as a reward. By using the lexigram, Kanzi is also able to communicate with the researchers there.

The scientific community is not looking to train new apes to use the lexigrams. They are currently trying to get these Bonobos to understand syntax. Instead of using single words and short phrases, they want them to form conversation with correct sentence structure. As of right now the apes can’t communicate with each other, but they can teach and show each other the right answers on the device. They all participate in school together, learning new things together.

Dr. Hyatt’s class is currently working on a research paper that requires them to write about the use of language such as language barriers, sign language, being bilingual, and much more. The students are challenged to pick four articles on the topic they chose and use what they have learned to create an informative argument based on language.

Dr. Hyatt truly gave the students a surprise with this video chat. It was informative, but it was also very helpful to the AP students. They got to learn how language is not only taught to humans, but to animals too. They discussed how humans and animals were similar in the sense of learning a new language and how they understand it.